Friday, 1 October 2010

The 20 best psychedelic folk songs

The golden era of acid folk was the late sixties and early seventies when the folk musicians who had come to prominence earlier fused their sound with the predominant sound of the day – psychedelia. Arguably America led the way, first with Dylan going ‘electric’ then the artists of the West coast such as Moby Grape and Crosby, Stills and Nash. The UK soon followed with Donovan and then Fairport Convention’s Meet Me On The Ledge taking the traditional folk sound and injecting it with modern instrumentation to create a new fusion which appealed to a younger market. Others soon followed - The Pentangle, Mellow Candle, Trees, and Mr Fox were just a few who were happy to incorporate jazz, rock and psychedelia into their sound with varied results. There are countless examples - many acts disappearing after an album or two but here are twenty of my favourites - do leave yours in the comments boxes below. I've sought to cover both the US and the UK/Irish scenes. If you want to secure some of these tracks relatively easily pick up one of the following compilations - Folk is Not a Four Letter Word (Volumes 1 and 2)- Various Artists, A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble exploding in your mind (Volumes 1 and 2) - The Amorphous Androgynous and Feel the Spirit compiled by Mark Pritchard.

20. By the Sea - Wendy and Bonnie

Famously sampled by Super Furry Animals for the track Hello Sunshine. Californian Wendy and Bonnie released their debut (and only) album Genesis when aged 17 and 13 respectively. The album reflected dominant sounds of the time (Simon and Garfunkel, Mamas and the Papas etc) but the label they were on (Skye) went bust after the album's release and, like so many folk artists of the time, this remained buried treasure until a new generation discovered it.

19. Spin Spider Spin - Peggy Zeitlin

Johnny Trunk deserves the credit for tracking this one down. It featured on his Fuzzy Felt Folk compilation a few years ago. Half child's lullaby, half creepy horror song it certainly grabs your attention. Its actually from an American child's education recording and no-one - not even Johnny - has been able to track Peggy down.

18. Mendle - Mr Fox

Fuzzy guitar and Hammond organ combine to create a frenzied recording allegedly about the killing of a woman in an occult ritual. Mayhem somewhat reminiscent of the band's own career. They only lasted two years due to the fact that driving force Bob Pegg had an affair with his children's nanny (his wife Carole was the band's vocalist) who in turn was the girlfriend of the bassist Barry Lyons - messy. Still, this is an excellent example of the darker side of the folk sound.

17. Me and my woman - Roy Harper

One wonders if Roy Harper had died early whether he would now garner the same respect as Nick Drake. Undoubtedly an excellent songwriter and a huge influence on other musicians of the time. This track is from 1971's Stormcock album an album revered by Johnny Marr among others.

16.Stargazer - Shelagh McDonald

The story of Shelagh McDonald is fascinating. A Scottish vocalist, she recorded two albums before abruptly disappearing for the next thirty years. She eventually re-emerged in 2005 claiming that following a bad LSD trip she had been living a nomadic lifestyle living in a combination of houses and tents. This is the title track of her second album and is quite beautiful.

15. Hey who really cares - Linda Perhacs

One has to wonder if any folk star from this era achieved any degree of financial success. Linda Perhacs was yet another who recorded one album, became a dental technician for the next thirty years and then was rediscovered. This ode to loneliness was a stand out track from her Parallelograms debut. In recent years she has started recording again and describes herself as 'equal parts mystic, musician, schoolteacher, earth mother and Pollyanna....'

14. River Man - Nick Drake

Nick Drake has gone from underrated folk troubadour to national treasure in the last decade. His sound, although generally regarded as folk, took jazz stylings in particular to create work of great beauty. This is an excellent example.

13. The Sea - Fotheringay

One of a number of tracks on this list featuring the unique talents of Sandy Denny who was also vocalist for Fairport Convention. This was her own post-Fairport band and this is one of her original compositions on the album. Denny later famously sang on Led Zeppelin's Battle of Evermore as well as having a mildly successful solo career before her death in 1978 after falling down a staircase.

12. Witches Promise – Jethro Tull

A controversial choice perhaps but Jethro Tull were one of the first to combine a traditional folk sound with the pervading classic rock sound. I discovered this track at university whole going through a prog rock phase and its always been a favourite – flutes ahoy!

11. Wooden Ships – Christine Harwood

A cover of the Crosby, Stills and Nash song. This version featured on her much sought after album Nice to meet you Miss Christine which featured guest spots from members of King Crimson, Rainbow and Yes. What really appeals about this version is the arrangements which lift it from standard soul or folk so something on a much more spiritual level.

10. Magician in the Mountain – Sun Forest

Like a number of the tracks listed here this track was made widely available by Global Communication’s Mark Pritchard on his influential Feel the Spirit Compilation. It has since also featured on the Amorphous Androgynous’ Huge Psychedelic Brain compilations. A number of the other tracks on Sun Forest's only album were featured in Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange.

9. Meet me on the Ledge – Fairport Convention

The track that shifted Fairport's career from west coast copyists to the forefathers of British folk Rock. Their following two albums (Unhalfbricking and Liege and Lief) are arguably two of the most important albums in British musical history.

8. Rosehip November– Vashti Bunyan

The story of Vashti Bunyan is well enough known not to have to repeat it here. This stand out track from her debut album Just Another Diamond Day has a real sense of loss and autumnul reflection.

7. Silver Song - Mellow Candle

Signed by Simon Napier Bell as teenagers, Mellow Candle's debut and only album Swaddling songs has been known to net over £500. This stand out track was covered by All About Eve among others.

6. She moved Thro' the fair – Trees

This traditional track was covered by many artists in the late 1960's/early 1970s as well as everyone from Boyzone to Rolf Harris later. It starts with a riff familiar to many fans of Led Zeppelin as White Summer and then moves into territory reminiscent of Belfast child by Simple Minds! Despite that its an excellent example of mellow folk rock and of how traditional English songs were being adapted for new audiences. The album its on (The Garden of Jane Trellawny) is one of two the band recorded and an absolute corker.

5. The Witch – Mark Fry

Like Susan Christie and Vashti Bunyan, Mark Fry had to wait for some time for recognition. He recorded his debut Dreaming with Alice in 1972 but the album was only released in Italy. Sitars and Lutes are introduced to the singer songwriter dimension of the record and its all produced in such a way that it has a really earthy but eerie quality - slightly reminiscent of Donovan perhaps. The reissued album on Sunbeam records is highly recommended.

4. Feel the spirit - Heaven and Earth

Like a number of the female artists here, Pat Gefell (now Dennison) of this duo still records. The accoustic guitar and flute really create a sense of being 'close to nature' without sounding twee. The note hit at about 2.57 hits a great peak before a funky drumbeat kicks in - folk funk at its best!

3. Winter's Going - Bonnie Dobson

Certainly one of the darkest songs on this list - essentially a story of revenge on an ex-lover. Bonnie was Canadian born but made her home in the UK, eventually working in the philosophy department of the University of London. This was a stand out track from her 1969 debut LP. The album can be picked up cheaply and also includes Morning Dew which was widely covered.

2. Paint a Lady - Susan Christie

Essentially a ‘lost’ recording until re released just a few years ago by the excellent Finders Keepers reissue label. Christie was from Philadelphia and had secured a novelty hit single with a track called I love onions before recording a superb album of folky country songs. This is the title track and it's lyrics paint a strangely colourful picture of the mundainity of the modern labour market

1. Light Flight – The Pentangle

‘Lets get away, you say...away from the city race’ As near as acid folk got to a hit single, Light Flight perfectly illustrated the desire to escape the pace and scale of urbanisation so desired by politicians of the day. Originally written to accompany TV series Take Three Girls. Jacqui McShee’s haunting wail soars over a funky rhythm section to create three and a half minutes of folk perfection.



  1. Lovely Sunday evening soundtrack - thanks Tommy x

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